Arts & Entertainment
2 min

DANCE: Indian movement and ’70s punk rock

Dancemakers double bill combines abstract movement and groovy tunes

Credit: Xtra Files

For nearly four decades, Dancemakers has been a leader in the creation and celebration of modern dance in Canada. Originally formed in 1974 by Andraya Smith, the company has seen greats like Peggy Baker and Robert Desrosiers pass through its doors on the way to stardom; and it’s where countless others have been mentored in the development of cutting-edge dance movement. 

Certainly one of the more interesting (and perhaps inadvertent) recent mentorships has been with company dramaturge Jacob Zimmer. A well-known playwright and director in his own right, Zimmer is making his debut as a choreographer in Dancemaker’s new season with a piece called Story Dance Radio
“It’s actually a little terrifying,” Zimmer says. “But also exciting. I don’t have the vocabulary of dance or the experience, but I’ve been working quite closely with the dancers to create the piece.”
It was an idea that happened almost by accident, during a rare lull in the company’s calendar. Zimmer had been working on the dramaturgy for a Dancemakers project when he began to consider incorporating more structured movement into his own theatrical creations. 
“I asked [artistic director] Michael Trent if I could have a couple of weeks to do some research with the company,” Zimmer says. “That ended up making more of a piece than I would have expected.”
Drawing on his fascination with the 1970s, Zimmer incorporated that decade’s music into his project. “It’s working with the politics of that time and my image of it,” he says. “I listened to a lot of its music while growing up, and it helped shape my identity. I’m interested in that shift from the optimism and exuberance of the ’60s and how it appeared to change and grow more cynical.”
With songs by Velvet Underground and Patti Smith, Story Dance Radio promises a groovy time for dance aficionados and hipsters alike.
Sharing the bill with Zimmer is choreographer Nova Bhattacharya, whose blend of modern and classical Indian dance has gained accolades for its innovative and lyrical visuals. Bhattacharya drew inspiration for her piece from the AGO’s expressionist exhibit this past summer. 
“The abstract impressionists had this unapologetic way of describing the abstract in their work, saying that this is not representational of anything in the world,” Bhattacharya explains. “So in my mind, my piece became very similar to an abstract painting. I wanted to create a meditative abstract piece that the audience can just receive and let wash over them, like a sunrise.”
Bhattacharya is working closely with the lighting design team to create a visual palette reminiscent of the impressionist masters, a beautiful complement to the intricate classic movements in her choreography.
“My technical training background is in Bharatanatyam,” she says. “It’s one of the classical dance styles from southern India. 
“There’s a huge gestural language in Indian dance, and I try to use it in a more abstract realm, taking that kind of physicality and playing with shifts and balance and weight.”
Bhattacharya worked closely with her dancers in creating the piece, blending contemporary dance sensibilities with Bharatanatyam’s intricate gestures. 
“I started playing with the idea of identical gestures and movement but really wanted to bring in the individuality of the dancers and how those gestures are interpreted,” she says. “Once I give them a vocabulary to play with, their interpretation then informs my process and what I’m trying to do with the movement.
“You can have as many thoughts in your head as you’d like, but I personally find that until one starts to move, you have no idea if it’s going to work.”

The Deets:

Dancemakers presents Jacob & Nova
Wed, Dec 7-Sun, Dec 18
Dancemakers Centre for Creation 
Distillery Historic District